Majestic whale tours around the globe inspire sisters to write ocean themed children's books during COVID-19

When Sarah Cullen and her sister Carmen Ellis were growing up near the beach at Cronulla they spent every spare moment they could near the water and developed a life long love of adventure and marine life.

Mrs Cullen later moved to Shellharbour where she and her family live at Flinders. And Mrs Ellis volunteered for and worked in many jobs helping wildlife and animals.

But like her younger sister she didn't venture too far from the sea and presently lives at Forresters Beach near Terrigal on the Central Coast.

The seven years ago they decided to take their love of the ocean, travel, animals, conservation and adventure to another level and formed a travel business called Majestic Whale Encounters.

It takes groups of eight to 14 people swimming with whales in beautiful locations around the world such as Tahita,Tonga and Norway where people love seeing orcas in the world.

In recent years they have added on some land encounters for guests wanting more. Such as a hiking with gorillas trip in Uganda that was planned for February.

"Another one we have been planning is with orangutans in Borneo," Mrs Cullen said.

"And we are looking at a tour to Kangaroo Island now that the borders are closed to all other countries.

"We really want to give people encounters out in the wild where the animals are free.

"We are an eco-conscious company so the safety of the wildlife as well as our safety is the top priority."

All was going swimmingly with up to 30 week long tours a year until COVID-19 hit the travel industry in March.

But the downturn in business due to global travel restrictions allowed the enterprising sisters to fast track an idea they had been working on to publish children's books. They originally intended to hand them out to families taking their tours as a gift.

"Every now and then we get children on our trips. We give merchandise to the adults on every trip but when we have children we like to give them a book," Mrs Cullen said.

"But we found there weren't many ocean themed books that we liked. So we thought why don't we make our own. We started that slowly late last year."

But when the coronavirus closed international borders they decided to keep their spirits high by using their time to pursue their new passion to write and self publish children's books.

They are fictional fun stories for ages three to seven that are also educational. We have some ocean trivia for the children at the end of each book

Sarah Cullen

The first ocean theme children's novel Nellie The Narwhal has just been released online and two more are in the works.

Illustrations are presently being done for the second book about a penguin born with a colourful mohawk that he wants to get rid of because he is different from all the other penguins. But he eventually comes to love it.

Writing has just started writing the third book about an orca and an eskimo who go on an adventure to see the northern lights.

"They are fictional fun stories for ages three to seven that are also educational. We have some ocean trivia for the children at the end of each book," Mrs Cullen said.

They have had a great reaction from people who have bought the first book are presently looking at wholesale opportunities to support online sales.

"We have had a few retailers contact us wanting to put the first book in their stores," Mrs Cullen said.

When airlines return to the skies the animal and sea loving sisters will organise more tours for up to 150 people a year with the help of their families.

"We have very good and understanding husbands who don't complain about getting to go to beautiful places with us sometimes," Mrs Cullen said.

"In Tonga we have set up so each season we have a house over there that we rotate in. I will go for five weeks and then my sister will go for five weeks.

"If we have a group for seven days my husband will go out with them one day and I will go out on the boat with them the next while he looks after the children.

"Our guests love the idea of being part of the family. We develop lasting relationships with them and they stay in contact with us."

CEO of Year Award 

Connie Mckeage

Connie Mckeage

Warilla's Connie Mckeage has been named CEO of the Year at Momentum Media's 2020 Women In Finance Awards.

Ms Mckeage is the managing director of financial services technology company OneVue and previously won the award in 2018.

This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the ceremony was held remotely and Ms Mckeage watched the live broadcast with OneVue staff.

The awards, hosted in partnership with AMP Bank, recognise the achievements of leading women in Australian financial services.

Ms Mckeage acknowledged the difficulties people have has faced through bushfires, droughts and COVID-19. And ended with the inspirational quote "success can be fleeting, failures are not fatal, and the courage to continue is what matters the most".

Ms Mckeage and her partner, Michael Cole, also own a dairy farm in Jamberoo. Mr Cole is a former chair of IMB Bank and presently sits on the investment committee of UOW.

Blossoms of Kindness

Hobbysew Figtree is seeking volunteers to help crochet, knit, create flowers made from bright colourful yarn, ribbon or fabric for its Blossoms of Kindness Project.

Positive and uplifting message are being added to the blossoms to brighten someones day in these uncertain times.

People will be able to select a flower from a display in Figtree Grove Shopping Centre to keep or pass it on to someone special.

Hobbysew is donating yarn to help create the blossoms and will host a crafting session with safe distancing.

The completed blooms need to be in by September 30 and any that aren't claimed from the display at the end of the project will be used to create fidget mats for people with dementia.

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This story Majestic whale tours inspire ocean themed children's books first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.